For one military family, it took the love of a rescue dog named Lily to bring them back from the brink, and ease the strains of deployment, financial hardship and depression.
Deployments to Iraq strain a family left behind
In 1994, Jose was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army Reserve. He was soon appointed as Platoon Leader with the 699th Engineering Company in Puerto Rico, a natural fit for his B.S. in civil engineering, and six years later became the Company’s Executive Officer. The following year and for the next two, Jose was relocated and served as staff officer with the 488th Engineering Brigade, earning command of its C Company in 2003.
Near the end of 2003 and until early 2005, Jose deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). Upon his return home, he was assigned as the S-4 and civil engineer of the 448th and in 2008, transferred to the 602nd Facility Engineer Detachment. As the war raged on, Jose and his unit were activated and he once again deployed to Iraq in 2009. After this second deployment, Jose returned and became the XO of the 602nd, where he remained until 2012 when he transferred to the 604th FEST-M in Orlando.
The multiple deployments weighed heavily on this Army Reservist, his wife and their four children, but they were all to be tested even further after Jose left the military and their lives began to unravel.
Unemployment, separation and depression
Upon returning from his second combat deployment, Jose learned that the company that previously employed him no longer had a position for him. Suddenly unemployed, he went seven long months without work, during which time the family lived on their meager savings, some unemployment benefits and pay from Jose’s monthly weekend Reservist training.
“My marriage was in trouble,” Jose says. “Sometimes we didn’t have enough money to buy food.”
Desperate for work, in 2010 the Army Reservist got a temporary position in Fort Gordon, Georgia with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). Once again, Jose had to leave his family, and the low pay did little to stem their financial hardships.
“It felt like another deployment,” he says. “The only communication that we had was by phone. I was treated for PTSD and the separation from my family made it worse.”
Jose’s family was suffering as well, particularly his wife and eldest daughter.
A new opportunity brings both promise and peril
Finally in 2011, a break: Jose was offered a permanent position with USACE in Wellington, Florida, and moved his wife and their four children to the United States. What he hoped would be a sweet reunion was instead an added strain.
“This move put a burden on my family,” he says. “First, not knowing the language and changing them to a different culture. My oldest daughter was in 11th grade. She was mad with me because I took her away from her friends.”
Jose’s wife was angry and depressed as well, which only added to Jose’s fragile emotional state.
“I was depressed, too,” he says, “and with a lot of issues; it was painful. Economically was the worst. We ran out of my savings and we were still not able to pay two houses.”
Not everyone in the family was upset with relocation. Jose’s youngest two children were happy with the move, but the cumulative strain of separation and a rocky relocation only worsened Jose’s PTSD.
A pet friend in need is a friend indeed
Although the family was finally all living under one roof again, Jose still felt isolated: his family was fractured, angry and depressed, and his friends forgot about him once he moved to the United States. As if these things weren’t bad enough, the family had to leave their dog behind with a friend of Jose’s wife.
“Leaving the dog in Puerto Rico was difficult for my oldest daughter,” says Jose. “She loved her.”
All his life, Jose adopted shelter animals and he always had a dog. In the midst of his family crisis, he realized that a dog could help him heal.
“I chose to adopt because I needed a friend,” he says.
During a visit to the Veterans Administration, Jose learned about Pets for Patriots and its companion pet adoption program for veterans and military personnel.
“I understood it was a good way to help an animal and in addition, to help me,” he explains. What he didn’t see at the time was that a pet could save his family as well.
Lily the rescue dog to the rescue
Jose applied to and was accepted by Pets for Patriots, and wasted no time visiting one of the charity’s local adoption partners, Big Dog Ranch Rescue. There he met Lily, a three year-old dog who Jose now describes as “the best thing that has happened to me and my family in the past three years.”
Jose is even convinced that Lily is bilingual.
“I think that she knows Spanish, too,” he jokes. “She understands what we say!”
Beyond her intelligence and affection, the Army veteran views the rescue dog as the one who saved his family and brought them together for the first time in years.
“I think instead of me rescuing Lily, she rescued my oldest daughter, my wife and me.”
Jose believes the healing power of his new companion pet is better than any medicine.
“Lily has been a balm for our lives,” he says. “She has changed the life of my wife and daughter; they are no longer depressed. She is my best friend. When I feel very sad, just playing with her fills me with joy. Not even the pills I’m taking can provide me with that feeling of happiness.”
In addition to a discounted adoption fee from Big Dog Ranch Rescue, Jose enjoys other benefits to make pet ownership more affordable: ongoing discounted veterinary care and a welcome home contribution of $150 from Pets for Patriots to help with the purchase of pet food and other essentials.
“I want to give thanks to Pets for Patriots for letting me be part of the program,” he says. “If you are a veteran, this is a great tool to save a life and probably to save yours, too.”
These days, Jose and his family are rebuilding their lives together, all thanks to a rescue dog named Lily. The Army veteran reflects about his family’s change of fortune at the paws of a once homeless dog.
“In a pet,” he states, “you’ll always have a friend.”
How has your pet helped you mend broken relationships?